David Blunkett: Why a second referendum might be the only answer to Brexit mess

Can Theresa May pull off her Brexit deal? David Blunkett has his doubts.
Can Theresa May pull off her Brexit deal? David Blunkett has his doubts.
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WHEN defeat is victory, what do you count as a win?

Within the last fortnight, I’ve been called both a “traitor” and a “hero”.

Does the deadlock at Parliament make a second referendum on brexit more likely? David Blunkett thinks so.

Does the deadlock at Parliament make a second referendum on brexit more likely? David Blunkett thinks so.

No, this is not about me personally but the divide that exists within our country.

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What has happened to me is merely a reflection of what is happening to Britain and the language that all sides in the Brexit debate are using inappropriately, including President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, who earlier this week talked about ‘a special place in hell’ for those who backed Brexit without a plan. We seem to be moving rapidly into a situation, like the US, of an “era of incivility”.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the main bus station in Sheffield when a man, later described to me as wearing a shell-suit, passed by and delivered a tirade of vitriol.

He said I was “an effing traitor” and much worse was said relating to hate crime. Although not associated with me, I don’t intend to say any more on this as it is being dealt with by the police.

By contrast, when shopping recently, I was approached twice by people from an entirely different part of my city who were not only friendly but desperate to ask if I could do something about the state of our country.

I feel exactly the same as they do. What the hell is happening to our nation?

Two months ago, I wrote about the likelihood of any positive outcome from the Parliamentary process – which was then postponed to January. It seems like a lifetime ago!

I endeavoured to lay out the potential scenario, the possibilities of what might or might not happen. I had no crystal ball, but I did indicate that I thought that there would not be a solution and this would just be another round on the carousel.

For those who were kind enough to read my column in December, I indicated that, in the end, it might come down to a catastrophic no-deal Brexit or a second referendum.

The latter I indicated would be “problematic” because of the 17.4 million people who, two and a half years ago, voted to leave the European Union.

But a second vote doesn’t necessarily mean a reversal of Brexit. In December, I did point out that there was no guarantee that the original vote would be overturned.

Back then in my heart of hearts, I still believed that Theresa May might pull it off and get a deal through Parliament. Here we are with 48 days to go and nothing yet, but Lord knows, she still might!

On January 29, the House of Commons agreed by 16 votes to overturn the Prime Minister’s negotiated deal (they’d already rejected it back in early January by 230 votes), but this time with the specific instruction to find an alternative to the insurance policy of the “backstop” on the Northern Ireland border issue, hence her meetings this week in Belfast, Brussels and Dublin.

This is, of course, all about a transitional arrangement which will allow time for negotiation over a permanent arrangement on customs and the Single Market and, yes, as a consequence on the border issue itself.

Sadly, many of the grievances, hurt and alienation evident before, and since the referendum, will not be resolved, even were we to leave the European Union.

The present diversion from tackling underlying issues will come back to bite us as people realise eventually that, with all its problems, the European Union was not responsible for the failings of our own political process.

The House of Commons has recently ground to a standstill. Major issues that should be debated are not, and the Commons drew stumps at 3.45pm on Wednesday.

So, next week, will Parliament resolve this matter? I am now no longer sure there is the will to do so.

And that is why I have recently come to the conclusion that if the Prime Minister can’t get a deal through, then it is quite likely that the only option, short of crashing out with no-deal, would be a second referendum.

I feel the only way to settle this once and for all, and to break the current deadlock, would be to have a second vote with the options laid out for the British people.

It may be that I am out of touch and that the shell-suited, bad-mouthed thug’s views reflect the will of the majority, but all I can say is ‘God forbid’.

Next week, if Parliament cannot come to a conclusion, the British people must.

‘Tell them again because they didn’t hear you the first time’ might be the kind of Donald Trump slogan that will carry a second referendum to instructing Parliament to exit without a deal.

It might, however, just be a moment to reflect on the total, absolute mess that our country is in. To ‘get real’, and start acting like mature, thinking human beings rather than reactive, nostalgic throwbacks to a 
bygone era.

The famous economist John Maynard Keynes, who negotiated the post Second World War loans with United States, once said: “When the facts change, I change my mind.”

Those who can’t demonstrate mindlessness rather than determination.

David Blunkett is a Labour peer. A former Sheffield MP, he held three senior Cabinet posts in Tony Blair’s government.